Tuesday 13 September 2016
There is chaos in the hotel this morning as the hotel is fully booked. We had to wait until 9.00am to hear whether we could extend our room till 9.00pm, so Gill and I had to pack our suitcases and take them down to reception to store in case we couldn’t extend our room (we were able to extend our room so had to take the bags back up again). Everyone seems to be leaving at 9.00am so the lifts are absolutely chaotic: we used Ieva’s tip to push the Up button and go up as far as you needed to so that you are the first ones in the lift going down (even then it took much longer than anticipated for everyone to assemble in reception).
Our local guide Tatiana joins us again to help us further explore Moscow’s historic centre, starting with a tour of the elaborate metro stations. These stations were built to impress people arriving to Moscow by train and to provide nice places for the people but they also do double duty as emergency shelters in case of bombing or war. It is said that the whole of Moscow’s 12-14M people could be accommodated underground should it ever be required, and there are places for the parliament to operate as well. The central ring route marks the original boundary of the city with lots of radial routes going out from the Kremlin in the centre. You can change to other lines at all of the ring route stations and it is a bit confusing when you need to transfer to seemingly different stations (decorated differently anyway) but they are still part of the same thing. They have also now just opened another ring route that used to be a railway circuit – it was not yet on the maps and they were offering free trips for a month but they are not nearly as spectacular as the ones we see (they don’t make stations like they used to!).
We were amazed to see that there were designated ‘Selfie’ Spots at the key stations and that even some of the trains were decorated. Some of the lines are as much as 80+ meters underground and the escalators are scarily long and steep in places. I amused myself by taking photos of people on the escalators who looked as though they were leaning backwards, particularly if you took the railings as level.
Tour of Moscow Metro Stations:
Partizanskaya – the station by our hotel (photos included again for completeness). Dedicated to the Partisans who were fighting the Nazis (different from the Partisans we encountered earlier in our trip who were fighting the soviets)
Kurskaya – this station was built in the 1950s style of Stalinist Architecture and the architects were awarded the Stalin Prize in 1950 for the design. It was originally designed as a bomb shelter and had seats and a library etc. (Note the difference between where we got off the line from Partizanskaya and the main station area that we walked through to)
Komsomolskaya – this is one of the most decorated of the metro stations and also one of the busiest. It is predominantly in baroque style and has spectacular mosaics
Prospekt Mira – the station was originally named after the Botanical Gardens above it and the decorations represent different aspects of the development of agriculture. The name now represents “peace”.
Novoslobodskaya – is best known for its 32 stained glass panels and a large mosaic at the end
Belorusskaya – marking relationship with Belarus; decorated with 12 mosaics depicting Belarusian daily life and the tiles on the floor are like a traditional Belarusian quilt.
Kiyevskaya – Celebrates Russo-Ukrainian unity; also has a series of mosaics depicting this theme and there is a portrait of Lenin at the end. We transfer through elaborate tunnels to another line that is part of the same station to another area with similarly themed designs.
Ploshchad Revolyutsii – I’ve included this again for completeness as it is one of the most famous stations leading to Revolution Square (even though we didn’t visit it again today). There are 76 bronze statues representing soldiers, sailors, workers etc and of course the one of a frontier guard with a dog which is supposed to bring luck if you rub its nose.
Smolenskaya – at the end of the platform is a bas-relief entitled “The Defenders of Russia,” depicting soldiers of the Red Army in battle. As you exit the station there is a massive domed area with decoration all around the base of the dome.
We exit Smolenskaya Metro Station and on our way to Arbat Street we pass the towering Ministry of Foreign Affairs building that is known as one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ – seven skyscrapers that were built in Stalinist style in the 1950s (a further two were planned but never built).
Arbat Street is a pedestrian street about one kilometre long in the historical centre of Moscow. It has existed since at least the 15th century, which makes it one of the oldest surviving streets of the Russian capital. Originally the street formed part of an important trade-route and was home to a large number of craftsmen. In the 18th century the Russian nobility came to regard the Arbat as the most prestigious living area in Moscow. It was then almost completely destroyed by the great fire of 1812. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it became known as the a place where petty nobility, artists, and academics lived. In the Soviet period, it housed many high-ranking government officials. It is now considered a desirable place to live, full of historic buildings.
Many artists lived and worked in the street, most famously Alexander Pushkin – poet, playwright and novelist. We see the blue house where he lived in the early 1800s, that is now a museum, with a statue of him and his wife outside. We hear many stories of Pushkin, and especially the infamous story of his duel to stem rumours of his wife’s affair: duels were common but mostly they didn’t shoot to kill; Pushkin was shot in stomach and died 2 days later (still protesting wife’s innocence).
There is another statue further down the street of the Russian poet Bulat Okudzhava. The street is full of decorations and market stalls, as well as touts for the numerous shops and restaurants all the way along.
We see a graffiti wall to commemorate popular Russian-Korean musician Viktor Tsoy who was killed young in car accident. Soon after his death words appeared on the wall near where girlfriend lived: “Viktor Tsoy was killed today”, then “Viktor will live on forever” and gradually tributes built up including picture of him.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Arbat Street neighbourhood was graced with elegant churches, notably the one featured in Vasily Polenov’s celebrated painting “A Courtyard in Moscow” (1879). There is a copy of this painting in front of the church that was in it.
We stop for lunch and I have Russian dumplings. Then we have a very fast walk to meet Tatiana outside the Bolshoi (Big) Theatre – some of us have booked a tour (unfortunately they are preparing the set for the upcoming performance of La Scala so we aren’t able to go behind the scenes but it is still an amazing tour that shouldn’t be missed).
The Bolshoi Theatre is one of the best known historical buildings in Moscow and has a long history as an Imperial Theatre stretching back to Catherine the Great. It has been destroyed (by fires and even a bomb in 1941) and rebuilt several times over the years, with different names and in different styles. One reopening was timed to coincide with the coronation of Emperor Alexander II. In 2011, the Bolshoi was re-opened after an extensive six-year renovation and it truly is a magnificent building inside and out, with many of the old features restored to their former glory and acoustic quality.
“Even closer, standing on a broad square, is the Petrovsky Theatre, a pioneering piece of architecture, a huge building, built with great taste, with a flat roof and imposing portico, surmounting which is an alabaster Apollo, standing motionless on one leg in an alabaster chariot, and driving three alabaster horses while gazing with annoyance at the Kremlin wall which jealously cuts him off from Russia’s ancient and sacred monuments!”
Mikhail Lermontov, in a work he wrote as a young man A Panorama of Moscow
In the second half of the 19th century the Bolshoi was considered to be one of the best theatres in the world in terms of its acoustic qualities. A reputation it owed to the skill of Alberto Cavos who designed the auditorium as a huge musical instrument. The auditorium walls were lined with acoustically resonant pinewood panels, the iron ceiling was replaced by a wooden one, the painted plafond being constructed out of wooden panels – everything in the auditorium – even the decoration of the boxes made out of papier-mâché – was geared to the acoustics. To improve the acoustics, Cavos also filled in the space, occupied by a cloakroom, under the amphitheatre, the former being moved to the stalls’ level.
- The Beethoven Hall was decorated in a very particular shade of red damask on walls
- The lobby and upstairs foyer were originally for masquerade balls after theatre performances, with the stairs wide and shallow to allow ladies to go up wearing their crinolines without touching each other; there is also a whisper gallery around the stairs where men could stand behind women and talk without whispering (putting mouth to ear was not acceptable behaviour).
- Downstairs there is a full size stage that can be used for performances at the same time as above, with a fully movable floor etc
- The chandelier in main auditorium is 11m across; there is a space above that was used to store oil for lighting, the chandellier could be raised right up into roof and then lowered down fully lit. Now there is a full sized rehearsal stage up there.
- The stage area was being set up for La Scala performance – 51m deep, could see into wings, elevators for different sets that can be lowered down ready to go in very short time; all adjustable including orchestra pit
- Emperor’s box and seating in circles; stalls used to be for standing
- Amazing acoustics – all made of wood, ornate decorations made of papier mache and gold (important for acoustics also). When renovated 2011, the acoustics were tested in 2400 places around theatre
Some of the group stayed on the city after our tour of the Bolshoi but Gill and I took the metro back to hotel, and had coffee and cake with Ieva in restaurant nearby, followed by a rest before our train to St Petersburg in evening. We had dinner at restaurant in hotel (joined progressively by most of the group) – salad and beer.
We took a bus to train station (a different one from the one we arrived at) at 9.00 pm. We arrive at the station in plenty of time and have to wait before we can go to the platform – we stand in a group with our luggage. Wave after wave of Chinese people come into the station, prompting the comment that our group was ‘an island in the China Sea’. Finally we get to go to our train (thankfully we have Ieva with us as there was little chance of us understanding the electronic board). It is a double-decker train (something new for all of us) and each carriage sleeps 118 people in 4 berth cabins. We are carriage 12 and the train stretches on down the platform as far as we can see. We estimate there are over 2000 people on the train – roughly 2000 Chinese passengers and us!
The high speed train has very clean modern facilities: 3 toilets for each carriage – although there was always a queue of people no matter what time you went. Our accommodation is in four-berth compartments with bedding (and a snack box) provided. The train departed just before 11.00pm, so we quickly got into our bunks and settled in for the night, arriving into St Petersburg at 6.40am next morning.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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